Friday, April 30, 2010

Science Fare*

"It's not you, it's me.... You're giving me the 'It's not you, it's me' routine? I invented 'It's not you, it's me.' Nobody tells me it's them, not me. If it's anybody, it's me."

- George Costanza on the TV show “Seinfeld” in the episode “The Lip Reader”

The evening after the Spanish fiasco, my husband and I attended our children’s school Science Fair. Every other year, the city hosts a Science Week, in which museums, MIT, Harvard, and biotech companies all over Cambridge participate. Last weekend, they had a big fair at the main library and high school gym. During the week, the students at each school presented their posters.

Younger grades do a class project. Kindergarten is habitat. First-grade is balls and ramps. My daughter’s second-grade class studied floatation. After viewing her poster, I asked her why a cantaloupe floated while a grape sunk. She replied, “Density”.

By fifth-grade, students work in pairs. My son and his friend created a home that ran on alternative energy. Some aspects made sense (greenhouse, solar panels), while others did not (jumping on a trampoline and walking up a slide to produce power).

The middle school students were required to stand in front of their posters, present their experiment and findings, and then people like me wrote down on fact we learned on a sheet. I assume what we wrote is part of their grade.

Inexplicably, there were about three experiments that had to do with Mentos and soda. The significance? I have no idea. My favorite experiment was a taste test between Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks coffee. OF COURSE, I could tell which was which. One pair did a study whether or not music interfered with concentration when playing a video game. I kid you not.

Two girls grew grass in a “greenhouse” and “outside”, to see in which environment it grew better. Another type of grass was the subject for a report on the dangers of marijuana. It explained side effects, provided two columns of nicknames, and showed a list of the top pot smoking countries. According to this list, New Zealand was number one, followed by Spain, and then the United States. The student wasn’t there to explain the data.

I loved seeing the students as they proudly and shyly spoke about their posters. My husband said that even though the students are older, they’re cute. “That’s what I’ve been saying!” I replied. “They’re all taller than you,” he said. It’s true. I find it funny that anyone respects my authority when they tower over me. Probably pity.

Irony of ironies, when I got home, I received a call to sub middle school Science the next day. I would be at the rally school**. When I’d subbed for Math***, the students could’ve been better or maybe it was me who could’ve been tougher.

This is the cool part. When students saw I was their sub, they were happy. Not because I was a sub to annihilate, but because it was ME. Tears. “You’re my favorite sub!” one exclaimed. I choose to believe he meant it. Another student asked his usual, “Do you remember my name?” I did.

The absent teacher was the one who usually helped me when the other Science teacher was out. Instead of getting my usual sixth and seventh-graders, I’d have mostly eighth-graders and one seventh-grade class. This was a heavy teaching day. I’d have five classes, and one of the groups came in TWO TIMES. Oh joy. As I knew he would, this teacher left me thorough plans. All I had to do was staple the packets. The eighth-grade packet didn’t seem very substantial, but his plans specifically said the last page would take them a long time. Foreshadow…

First group, first period, two students finished that packet in TWENTY MINUTES. How long is the class, you ask? An hour. AND I’d get them again in the afternoon for ANOTHER HOUR. Awesome. Their packet was about cancer, so none of my papers or my membership to were going to help me. Surfing the Internet, I didn’t find much that was appropriate. Perusing the textbook, I found a chapter on cell mutation. Another student verified they hadn’t done that chapter. Voilà, I had my afternoon assignment.

All of the groups were good, although some students worked harder than others, and I had to make sure the ones who finished early kept their voices down to a (somewhat) acceptable level. The nice part about this room is it’s in a corner, not attached to any other rooms. I brought in Brain Teaser cards and someone borrowed playing cards from another teacher so most teens were occupied.

One group of seventh-graders is usually the thorn in my butt, but even they were better than usual. A pair of fraternal twins trashed talked/argued the whole time (as usual), but this time I was better about keeping them separated.

Overall, the kids, although exhausting, made me laugh.

I confiscated a scissor from a student.

His friend said, “That’s not a weapon.”

“He doesn’t need it to work on his packet,” I replied.

“Why don’t you wait until he uses it as a weapon.”

“What if it were a gun? Should I wait until he used that?”

The boys laughed.

Those same boys kept pulling their eyes taut to tease their Asian friend. “That’s racist.” I reprimanded. Then I brought up the film “The Blind Side”, which they’d all seen and it distracted them from… being racist.

I also confiscated a book from a student who kept reading instead of doing her packet. “It kills me to do this,” I said.

A group of eighth-grade girls who finished early wanted to do gymnastics, but I told them they needed a spotter and a mat. Instead, I let them go in the hallway (another advantage of being in an isolated corridor) so they could lean against the wall in a sitting position to see who could sit there the longest.

At the end of the day, the English teacher asked me how they day had gone.

“It went well. I don’t know why some days are better than others. I think it’s them, not me.”

“They’re like that for everyone,” he replied.

“The only difficulty was dealing with those brothers, but I had one work in the hallway and then it was fine.”

“I don’t know what their problem is. We’ve had the parents in multiple times, but they won’t put them in different classes.”

So, there you have it. It’s them, not me.

*I didn’t use “Fair” intentionally. Get it?

**The Pep Rally:

*** When I subbed these students last time for Math:


  1. The science fair sounds like a real learning experience. How wonderful that your son with a partner got to create a home powered by alternative energy. It's a learning experience he should remember throughout his life. (I got the pun.)

  2. My mind read what it wanted to read and saw "fair" - it was only after I read your last line that I scrolled up and saw it. Fare.

    You are messing with my little head!


    I like the jumping on a trampoline and walking up a slide to create power - much more fun than discovering which was a donut and a coffee.

    I must tell Niki from Wool N Nuts blog that NZ is the top pot smoking country! LOL!

    Awwww and of course you are the bestest sub on this planet!

    At least the classes you took were better than yesterday's despite the racist kids and the twins. And yay for that teacher who left proper notes this time!

    Take care

  3. I'm glad you had a good day. I love Science Fairs because even kids who aren't really good with science seem to get into them. :)

  4. Ooh, a taste test between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks! Where do I sign up? Those projects you described sound cool; it's refreshing to read about kids who are creating interesting projects and demonstrating what they've learned.

    Also, "why don't you wait until he uses it as a weapon?" Sheesh. Kids.

  5. Paul C, I'm glad you got the pun. I thought I should put an asterisk lest people think I don't know the difference.

    A group came in called Learning by Design that helped my son's class with their projects. It incorporates art into education.

    Old Kitty, can you tell that a trampoline and slide was imagined by eleven-year-old boys?

    On Wednesday night, I left a comment on Niki's blog about it. She commented back on her blog and commented back her on my post. She's protesting the numbers or something.

    I had to work today too, but it was the easiest day of the week. I miss my writing time.

  6. Sarahjayne, I like that the schools do them. I agree, all of the students seem to get into it.

    Neurotic Workaholic, two students, one who was a problem kid in Math last time, used his free period to work on his Science poster. It was my free period too, but I sacrificed walking two blocks to grab a coffee for science. Sigh.

  7. It's nice to see the kids so immersed in science at the Fair, and pretty well-versed in their projects, it sounds like. And like Old Kitty, I had to scroll up and re-read fare. I had read it "fair" too!

  8. Remind me to share a really cool science fair project with you that your child might want to tackle one year. I love science fairs too. The kids are always so proud of themselves and excited about their experiments.

    I know I sound like a broken record...but you would make such a wonderful teacher! You deserve your own classroom!

  9. Joanne, maybe I didn't need to bother with the disclaimer. But now it's more layered, right?

    I'm pretty impressed with the students' work and level of understanding.

    VKT, I'd love to hear the science fair project.

    Thanks for the compliment. From your mouth to a principal's ears.

  10. What a great learning experience!

    Excellent post :)

  11. Just reading about the science fair brought back memories of when my son was in elementary school. Thanks so much for bringing back those memories.

  12. Thanks for the kind words on my entry in the LAST LINES BLOGFEST.

    And you must follow your feelings upon not entering blogfests. I have met many interesting and friendly fellow strugglers. It has been worth it for me.

    I would like to read your entry in the Last Lines Blogfest. It would be short due to the nature of the parameters.

    But you know what is best for you. I am, as always, in your corner -- I have your back, as they say, Roland

  13. Loved hearing about the science fair! I remember having a great time at those as a parent, walking around looking at the projects.

    Your adventures in the classroom always impress me!

  14. Wendy, thanks for the comment.

    Choices, glad to bring you back in time.

    Roland, thanks for the encouragement. I don't know if I want to give away any "endings" right now. Maybe the next Blogfest round.

    Bossy Betty, it will be interesting when my son is in high school Some of the students get to present at MIT.

    I'm glad you're enjoying my classroom adventures.

  15. I love the quote from Seinfeld. That's one of my favourite shows ever!

    How nice that the kids remembered you - in a good way!

  16. The taste testing sounds like my kind of science. Love the stress of taking the book off the girl, we all know that feeling of having to put down a good book.

  17. Talli, I used to love Seinfeld. When I remembered the quote and hunted it down on Google, I found it on a site with a bunch of quotes. They all had me chuckling.

    Brigid, taste testing is my kind of science too!

    As for the girl, in one of my earlier warnings, I said, "Please don't make have to take away your book." It seems counter-intuitive, but it was a Science class.

  18. Love the George Costanza quote! I remember that episode.

    The science fair sounds like it was fun. I never had a chance to go to one as an adult (I had to participate in middle school... ugh) now that I actually like science.

  19. I so get how you felt when you had to take a book from a kid. I have one now who always has at least two novels on his desk, and if I just stop from my lecture to *breathe* he peeks at the pages to keep reading. And while I *love* that about him, I do sometimes have to confiscate his books so he can learn something!

  20. Shelley, they are pretty cool. I hated Science classes in high school, but now I'm married to a scientist.

    Beth, if we could only get those who don't read to read.

  21. Lovely post. I enjoyed reading all the various experiments in the Science Fair. Especially, the walking up a slide to produce power... LOL
    Happy Sunday!

  22. Mr. Stupid, the slide "power" is a little questionable.

    Happy Sunday to you!

  23. Extra points for you for word play!

    Love it.

    I laugh how the students wanted to wait until the scissors became a weapon before you took them. Ohhhh, kids. Why don't we just give you sharp knives and BB guns and just see what happens then, too?

    I hope you're having a wonderful weekend!

  24. Tiffany, leave kids unattended with anything that can be used as a weapon and it's Lord of the Flies.

  25. The two paragraphs about the boys playing Aisan and the girl with the book sound so like my friends it's scary.

    My friends don't do the eye thing as a sign of 'racism'. They're joking around and actual think being Aisan makes you cooler or 'ninja'.

  26. Brooke, that's funny those students sounded like your friends. When I was an extended term sub this year, I had this same class. I think these boys did the Asian thing to get a rise of their Asian friend. He was pretty cool about it.